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Still image from the news reading "Mother and daughters stabbed to death in Queens; police search for father."
Where’s a Cop When You Need One?
February 25, 2014 - By: - In: Language, Translation - Comments Off on Where’s a Cop When You Need One?

¿Dónde está la policía cuando uno los necesita?

In any language, the eternal question of law enforcement. When the chips are down, we are counting on that thin blue line to protect us from the bad guys. That’s one of the reasons Queens resident Deisy Garcia went to the NYPD to file a domestic violence report after she was beaten by her husband Miguel Mejia-Ramos. She reported that Ramos had threatened to kill her.

These police reports are required by law. Instructions are bilingual and the forms can be completed in English or Spanish. Garcia, originally from Guatemala, wrote in Spanish that she feared her husband might kill her or their children.

She filed twice last year, once in May and once in November after two separate incidents. The reports were not translated until this January. Not much help to Garcia and her two daughters — they had already been stabbed to death by Mejia-Ramos.

The New York Post reported that Garcia’s mother, Luzmina Alvarado, “lashed out at the NYPD” when told of the police blunder.

“I know she contacted them and told them he kicked her and abused her, but the police told her they needed to see proof of the abuse. They told her there was no evidence and left it at that,” Alvarado told the Post.

“I told the cops, ‘Now that my daughter is dead, you’re hunting for this man like dogs, but if you did more earlier — if you had listened to my daughter — she might be alive today.’ ”

Garcia’s brother José Garcia, 19, added, “When someone comes to them with a problem but only speaks Spanish, find someone who speaks Spanish.

“They’re supposed to help us no matter who we are. My sister and her kids might still be alive if they had done their jobs.”

Even though the police are required by law to translate police reports written in a foreign language, it wasn’t done in this case.

I wonder how many cases are like that. I was looking into NYPD translation spend but then it occurred to me that it still wouldn’t tell us when translation was needed and wasn’t provided. I’m guessing it happens a lot, and I’ll bet New York police are more multilingual than most departments.  My own experience suggests that cops are usually pretty ad hoc when it comes to language. Hey, they’re cops, not translators. It’s not what police departments like to spend their money on.

Certainly not in this case. New York’s finest is looking to machine translation of these reports in the future.  Or at least that’s what they tell New York Post reporters to get them off the phone. Because until RoboCop comes online at a precinct near you, you can’t translate domestic violence reports using machine translation. The input is just going to be too rough to get anything meaningful out of it.

So where’s a cop who speaks your language when you need one? Not here.

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